The Seattle Seahawks won a thrilling Week 8 matchup against the Houston Texans with strong performances by opposing quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. A game that featured a number of lead changes, last minute drama, and high pressure situations. A game with serious playoff implications as Seattle keeps pace with the Rams and regains control of the NFC-West.
And yes, the kickers had a say in it too.
Blair Walsh was asked to kick seven times this game, making all seven. However, Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks’ offense kept it easy on him (but hard on fans) as both of his field goals came from 21 yards out. He did an amazing job of making routine kicks remain routine despite being asked to tie the game multiple times, take the lead once, and keep the lead to 3 twice. After being asked to make the go ahead field goal with 1:21 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Walsh wasn’t asked to kick from behind the remainder of the contest. All told, Walsh accounted for 11 of Seattle’s points on Sunday.
His declining portion of the offense’s production, which was near 50% through the first few weeks, is a blessing as the Seahawks made it into the end zone five times during the game. Ka'imi Fairbairn for the Texans was also perfect today, netting five extra points and a 31-yard field goal.
You may remember Fairbairn from UCLA, where he won the Lou Groza Award for top college placekicker of 2015, set the PAC-12 career points record in 2015 (later broken in 2016), and had a college career long of 60 yards against Cal. After signing with the Texans as a free agent in 2016 and spending his rookie year on injured reserve, he’s been perfect on field goals on 11 attempts with a long of 50 yards in 2017.
Jon Ryan again kicked a below season average number of punts, only sending the ball away five times during the contest but averaging over 47 yards per boot. Two weeks ago Ryan was averaging seven punts a game. After today he’s down to 5.4 per contest as Seattle finds it’s offensive production. So far this year, the Seahawks have not lost a game in which they have punted fewer than six times. While this it’s a trivially obvious relationship that punting less generally means scoring more, it’s pretty fun to watch Ryan’s average move downwards as Seattle has put up at least 24 points three of the last four games.
As for kicking strategy, Houston placed rookie wide receiver Chris Thompson into the kickoff returning roll today where he performed well, averaging 19 yards per return with a long of 25. During the earlier portions of the game the Walsh was kicking off just short of the goal line on all but the first kick, perhaps an attempt to test the rookie receiver who was recently forced into the position with the injury of Tyler Ervin.
However, as the game progressed from the late 3rd quarter onward we saw Seattle adjust to the more conservative kicking out of the end zone strategy. A move that makes complete sense given the game situation as the risk of giving up good field position becomes more costly as the game goes on.
As the season progresses we see the Seahawks relying less on their kicking game in general, which in general is good. Though I would be lying if I wasn’t hoping just a little bit that Seattle would be in a long kick situation during such a close game. A successful challenge and lucky fumble removed that possibility, sometimes the ball just has it’s own ideas. The ability to kick long and under pressure is something Walsh displayed before 2016, but there’s been a lot of questions if he still has that ability. While I believe he does, proof through execution is the only way to know for sure. So while we bask in the glory of a well deserved win in the golden age of Seahawks football, I can be patient for the answer to that uncertainty for at least one more week.